But in India, I found nothing. Nothing. I was alone. Too much alone. I spent a year there. I sensed nothing, dreamed nothing, almost gave up even wanting to find my love. Until,
…in the Black of a star lit night
Once again I felt that I should try Yemen. If nothing more, to recover my pride and to rouse the beast there once again.
I visited Upper Egypt on the way to Yemen. I stayed just south of Luxor in a little hotel on the river . It was like paradise to me. The river carried islands, populations, no, continents of water lilies floating freely down its course, north. The farms on the other side are lush gardens backing up against the utterly barren desert beyond. I visited the “land of the dead” over there. And stayed for a week on the side of the living. I had waited in Spain for six weeks and another in Cairo. Again waiting, waiting. All in not such patient preparation for what? I celebrated a Mass in my room over looking the river at Luxor. Then, I realized that I had been having for days, an experience of the ‘other world,’ a world of wonderful yellow golden light. Peace. Completion. Many times during this journey, I had imagined an elephant slowly lumbering along the shore of the sea. Slowly it moved undistracted to its destination. [The elephant in Africa is the shaman’s beast. It is Ganesh, patron of pilgrims in India.] Then I focused on the Nile. Water. The cradle for Western Civilization. The Nile. Egypt and water. This is exactly where I needed to be.
And this place is the focus of this pilgrimage. In it was a peace that sur- passes anything that I had experienced. “Go, in the peace of Christ… alleluia! Thanks be to God… alleluia!” I knew I needed to journey no fur- ther in the Middle East. Not to Yemen, anyway. I could go on to Yemen but it would make no difference. The elephant had arrived in the realm of joyous, joyous, golden light. I stayed there until it had disappeared entirely into the light, which took several days. I made a medicine bundle and threw it into the river. For me this is a place of intense delight.
Amidst this silent, boring solitude, a very clear intuition that Mexico (again!) was the next place and that hopefully would be the concluding punctuation to the Yemen Experiment. So I left Luxor.
I had to wait over-night for my flight to the States near Cairo in a place called Heliopolis. At that time I was reading books on Egyptian Mythology. One story of the creation of the world tells of Father God Ra, whose ancient place of worship was Heliopolis. Ra wills himself into existence out of the primordial waters, then finding himself alone and lonely, masturbates, taking the semen into his mouth. By spewing it out, he produces the gods. (Interesting religious consciousness. Better really. Not ashamed of innocent biological function.) The rain rituals men- tioned earlier had a related form, though not exactly.
(Also note: I read that the word “alchemy” derives from an ancient Egyptian word for black fertile soil. There is a connec- tion from Spain in that: While I was in Barcelona earlier that summer, I was informed of a theory proposing that the famous, miraculous, black-faced Madonna of Monteserrat was that color because of ancient pagan beliefs connecting black fertile soil with worship of the Great Goddess. Also, it remains the venerable custom for newly weds in that district of Spain to go to Montserrat for the first night of their honeymoon for the bride to offer flowers (and her virginity?) to the black-faced virgin. The Virgin is the patron of this journey. Also the name of the goddess Kali, goddess of death, consort of Shiva, means “black” in Sanskrit and Romany. Gypsies brought Kali to Spain as their Patron Saint disguised as a Christian saint, according to a friend of mine who is a devotee of the Goddess and the great Mysteries.)
The Golden Light of Luxor was beautiful and characterized this sum- mer’s journey. But the balance in the world was horrific.
From the San Francisco Examiner September 25, 1988: “This year of disaster… May floods in China cause million farmers to lose crops kills 100; June Drought causes 10’s of billions of dollars damage in U.S. Midwest; July 1st, floods in Bangladesh, cholera strikes New Delhi; August typhoon in China affects 10.5 million people, Nepal earthquake kills 900, floods in Sudan leave 2 million homeless (as I start out for upper Egypt); September floods inundate Bangladesh with 28 million victims; September, the worst hurricane in history hits Mexico in the general area where I was supposed to conclude Yemen experiment. The preparation for this journey started in mid May with the mural crisis, and continued through the Geyserville episode in September, described below.
Though I have tried to deny it to myself for the sake of my own sense of normalcy and sanity, finally I have to admit to an apparent interac- tion between the flow of these rituals and unusual meteorological, geo- logical, political and social events.
I believe that we are now at a fulcrum moment in our vast history regarding our survival as a biosphere; and that the earth is moving to effect that survival by attempting to balance the abuses of technology; and that the shamanic capacity brings one more closely into the pres- ence of that reality. Further, human personality has something catalytic to do with that process. Or, at least the capacity to be catalytic. Though I am not sure about any of this, and I cannot judge in any conclusive way if the macrocosm of the earth has been affected by the ritual of shamanic pilgrimage, as was the microcosm of my body by the pilgrim- age to eastern Turkey. But, there has been enough striking, even trau- matic, “co-incidences” that it has warranted following through. I have the sense of facilitating, helping to birth this process rather than turn- ing it around as earlier thought. In any case…
Something significant happened. And I forgot that I ever knew a woman named Stephanie!
I returned from Egypt to the U.S. to Berkeley. There I began doctoral studies in September. My mother, who lives nearby, and I took a drive north to Geyserville. The precarious mountain road from inland Geyserville to the coast was the spiritual conclusion to my first pilgrim- age. The geysers from which the ‘ville’ takes its name we thought were further inland than the town in the hills to the east. I suggested that local as the destination of our drive. We found that there were no gey- sers there, but there was one of the world’s largest natural reservoirs of subterranean steam, (ala eastern Turkey!). Mom and I stayed in those hills for perhaps three hours. As we returned south along highway 101, we looked back and saw smoke. We turned on the radio, it and the next day’s papers carried stories of five mysteriously spontaneous fires ignit- ing in those hills just when we had been there. Even my mother, who is patient but generally incredulous about these things, as impressed by the clear coincidence. Thus I believe the Luxor chapter concluded.
The fires, and storms are connected sexually, Tantrically, to the ritual. My mother has been central to a lot of the shamanistic imagery, as has been my father. Both were operative in the formation of personality; consciously unintentionally, operative in the formation of my particular sexual bent, as parents always are. My sexual practice is abstemious as far as biological creatures are concerned, but the earth, the universe… Who can really describe such things.
[Long Beach: Center of so much of my ritual, (the previous “earth- quake ritual,” for instance) art, and life, for the past year; as well as California coastal Indian creation myth and history; as well as being home of some of my family and most influential supporters: was struck by an earthquake at that time of the Geyserville fires.]
Two months later I left for Mexico, hopefully to conclude this experiment.
The dominant symbols for the Luxor journey were light and water. The symbol for the Mexican Conclusion has been death.
(1) One day, I opened Panikkar’s Vedic Experience for a “reading” about the approaching trip to Mexico. The reading I turned to was about Yama, god of death, in the Vedic pantheon. On my way to central eastern Mexico, I planned a stop in Zuni, New Mexico to observe their winter Shalaco celebrations. When I called my friend there to make these arrangements, (2) she was mourning for the murder of one of her students, the suicide of another, (3) and the death of her father. When I arrived at the home of friends in S. California on my way to N. Mexico, a (4) former parishioner stopped by unexpectedly to tell us that she was dying of cancer. (5) There were a couple of other cancer stories, including that of my former art teacher and early guide. (6) The father of the close friend and artist who helped me paint the mural, died of cancer as did another friend of mine. (7) The sister of my first art teacher in college.) (8) There seemed to be at every turn a funeral cortege or cemetery. After Zuni, my friend and I hitchhiked from Albuquerque to El Paso. We started hitchhiking. Next to the freeway on ramp was a cemetery, partially covered by the interstate.
Our hitchhiking went well for half the first day, but then we got stranded in the middle of the desert. We ended up walking all night. It was too cold to sleep. Some things my friend told me in that moonless dark night were like death but I cannot reveal the real nature of that sickness or its sin. It was the next day that that most disastrous earthquake in history hit Soviet Armenia. It’s not the 50,000 dead that sadden me, we all have to die. But those left to suffer… God give them solace and peace. That was just on the other side of the Russian-Turkish border from the place where I concluded the migraine experiment and began the Yemen Experiment, just a few miles away in that geologically volatile region—rather than it being us who project our perceptions onto nature, it is nature who has formed our perceptions by its projections into our minds and bodies.
We reached Juarez the next day, caught a bus to Chihuahua. Chihuahua is an ugly city, but there I had a beautiful, energizing dream. Then, we moved on to the Sierra Tarahumara, the badlands of central Mexico where many of the Tarahumara Indians still live a pre- Columbian lifestyle. The mountains there are rugged and powerful. I stopped in a village called Creel. It was like arriving in a wild-west town populated with cowboys and Indians. And dust, blinding clouds of dust. Couldn’t see to the end of the block for the dust. That first night, I had a terrible dream. One night soon after, I did a ritual at my fireplace. I used the incense from Luxor and Yemen and other things; prayers, intentions. As these offerings rose in the sacred smoke, out of my practice, into the world, snow began to fall in Creel. To snow in Creel, at 8000 feet, in December is not unusual. But it also snowed in Chihuahua and El Paso. It seldom snows there. That cured the dust problem. Seemed to be quite a blessing for it to snow at that moment. Also, that night, the one who was to help me complete the ritual, a stranger, arrived in town.
I was invited to go with an anthropologist down into the deepest canyon in that region in Mexico. My friend from California and I consulted a pack of Tarot cards he brought with him. We consulted them, asking simply if I would survive the trip down into the canyon. Five consecutive readings said, “no.” We also asked if the Yemen Experiment would have its intended success. “No.” That affected me more than the death threat.
When one is into these adventures, normal rational caution is suspended at times, so I intended to go down into the canyon anyway if that was to be the completion of this “experiment” not withstanding any threat of death. Also, my faith in our ability to read the cards correctly was half-hearted. But still, five times…
My friend who had traveled with me from California decided to return home at that point. After he left, I met the other young man, the stranger. This one was spiritually, psychically gifted and was to help me complete the ritual. We had had a couple of conversations about spiritual things first. On September 11, I went to Mass. That was the vigil of the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. ( Another dark-skinned apparition.) After Mass, I ran into this young man, Doug. He had been looking for me to go for a hike.
He wanted to go up to a statue of Christ on a mountain overlooking the valley. So we did. Though it was a light-hearted hike up to the statue, it felt like we were offering everything to Christ. Up there on a stone deck in front of the statue, I meditated and did Tai Chi. Then, it seemed appropriate to invite Doug to complete the ritual with me. He agreed. I went to my cabin, got the ritual things. Then we hiked to the other end of the valley through a beautiful rural Mexican cemetery and a pine wood to the base of a mesa of most extraordinary rocks. There we gathered what was needed for a fire, and very shortly tried to complete the ritual, so shortly though, that it was more like a comma than a period. There seemed to be more to come for the ritual to complete itself!
The anthropologist never returned to take me down into the canyon, I waited three days. Doug was anxious to be gone. So, I suggested that instead of the canyon (and possible death) that we go to Mazatlan. That was a place where I had kicked off the third pilgrimage 16 years before. That journey was to South America during which I became deeply fascinated with the question of God, the Church and the religious phenomenon in human personality. It just preceded my entrance into the monastery.
While we were still in Creel, in another of those spontaneous, evocative moments, Doug had his “helping spirit” named for him. The deer! When we got to “Mazatlan” we stayed in the same hotel I stayed in on the south (Mexican) end of the beach 16 years previous. After a couple of days, my curiosity about the place was such that I felt urged to ask the manager what the name of the place, “Mazatlan,” means. I was told that it is the Indian dialect for “Place of the Deer.”
By then Doug and I had already begun a series of “exchanges” that lasted about three hours each, including meditation, energy exchanges, and guided imagery journey. There were four of these over three days. In the first of these we sat face-to-face. The over-whelming sensation of that first section was anger and hatred. I believe it to be the hatred from the dragon. I say the dragon because it was without malice so it was not, I believe, diabolic in any ultimate sense. It was the dragon of Being or perhaps Nature, the necessary violence of creativity. This was extenuated by the fact that we seem to have lost against the forces of technological consumerism. These forces seem to have taken the field of battle in the human heart and are proceeding to consume the earth.
But, perhaps we win by losing. The theme of the journey has been death; from the reading about Yama in Panikkar to the prognosis of my own death in the canyon. We avoided physical death, but was it a rite of passage for us?
After the first meditation, Doug and I proceeded to the usual energy exercises. These were for peace, healing, light and the usual good effects, but very, very strong. When I was in the hate mode, I had a vision of struggling to fecundate the great black widow. She, to build her web. She was vast. I couldn’t stretch across her abdomen. Here was completed a series of images/sensations that had been recurring in my mind and body over the past two months. This was of having sexual intercourse with the universe! It was the clearest nonphysical, personally satisfying, sensation of perfect sexual intercourse.
Fecundating the Spider goddess was the completion of that earlier intercourse. It was somehow related to re-vitalizing the Tree of Life, of sentience in the world. By that I don’t just mean reproduction but enlightenment and completion. Her web was hung on the Great Tree. The last image from that scenario was of me wrapped up in her silken web, but escaping. In fact, I later make it to the tree itself and hide from her.
Doug’s experience dominates the rest of the vision journey, but I’ll leave that for him to tell. Doug and his helping spirit, symbol of the male sun god and the peyote vision cult, lured me away from the canyon that might have been my death. So in a sense saved me from being devoured by the spider after I performed the ancient office of her mate and priest. (The symbol transcends the sequence.) We parted soon after, the sense of the deer god strongly with us as my plane left the fog bound coast of Mexico.
Right after arriving home I got a card from my friend in Zuni. She had left the reservation, to take up a different job. While driving out, a deer ran in front of her jeep and was killed. She felt badly, and was angered about the three thousand dollars of damage to the car, but related that the Zunis told her that deer were sacred animals who choose the hunter by whom they will allow themselves to be sacrificed. She had been so instrumental to my studies on Native American Shamanism.
(The effects so far of the Yemen Experiment can be ascertained by looking up these readings in the I Ching: #12 “P’i” with 6 in the second place and nine in the 4th, 5th, and 6th places!!! Most interesting; then # 7 “Shih”, with its advice about the use of poison drugs and benevolence. Add to that a vision that came as I held the yarrow sticks to my forehead: a vast and drifting, watching presence broods upon the world. This is how I believe the Yemen Experiment worked out. We are well, at peace generally, but watchful and vigilant.)